Sanford, VA will partner to bring precision medicine to 250,000 veterans

March 12, 2019

A $25 million donation from Denny Sanford will help Sanford Health offer free genetics-based testing to as many as 250,000 military veterans nationwide by 2022.

Sanford Health announced the new relationship with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today in Washington, D.C.

 

It will begin this fall at a pilot site in Durham, N.C., where veterans who are cancer survivors will receive a test that uses their DNA to help determine which medications will be most effective for them. It’s a field known as pharmacogenomics and an element of Sanford’s Imagenetics program, which began in 2014 with a $125 million gift from Denny Sanford.

“It is a wonderful day for veterans,” VA Secretary Robert Wilke said.

“The testing … we are going to be using as a result of Mr. Sanford’s generosity is critical for our VA physicians in prescribing the proper prescription at an optimized dosage based on the patient’s genetics.”

Veterans will access the test at their local VA facility. Sanford will process the tests in Sioux Falls at its Imagenetics facility, and the patient’s physician will receive the test results to help with clinical decision-making.

“Imagine you’re sitting in my shoes. You have this tool in your toolbox. You’ve perfected it. You have some of the greatest talent around you. How are you going to apply it?” Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft said.

“We just became infatuated with the idea that we could really make a difference here.”

 

Denny Sanford, who spent eight years in the Air Reserves in the Twin Cities, said the experience gave him “a window into the incredible sacrifices made by our nation’s service members and their families.”

“I’ve invested in this unique partnership between Sanford Health and the VA as a tribute to those brave, selfless men and women.”

The test will screen for 80 drugs commonly used for 10 classes of pharmacologic application, Krabbenhoft said, including drugs used to treat mental health and cardiovascular diseases and for pain management.

Ninety percent of people screened find they carry a genetic change that could affect medication effectiveness and dosing, he said. Bringing it to as many as 250,000 veterans will cost about $50 million. Sanford Health is matching Denny Sanford’s donation with a $25 million contribution.

 

The partnership offers that insight to those who “deserve it most,” he said. “I believe we should move those people to the front of the line for diagnostics and therapeutics.”

The program, which will be called Pharmacogenomics Action for Cancer Survivorship, will be the largest pharmacogenetic testing effort in the country, according to Dr. Deepak Voora, director of the program for the VA and associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine.

“We have the potential to improve patient care for each veteran we test, and the scale of the effort will allow us to see trends and conduct research that could improve medical care for the entire population.”

The program eventually will support genetic counseling for patients.

The partnership represents a strengthening of ties between Sanford and the VA. The health system hired former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin last year to be its chief innovation officer. It also created a department of veterans and military services to help military personnel obtain and navigate through health care services and to offer family support.

“Nothing like this happens unless there’s a fertile place for it politically,” Krabbenhoft said, crediting both U.S. senators from South Dakota as well as others, including Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee on veterans affairs.

“I hope Sanford is not the only health system in the country that jumps on board. It would be a lot of fun if there was a cadre of health systems that really wanted to make a difference because veterans are coast to coast.”

Sanford, VA will partner to bring precision medicine to 250,000 veterans

A $25 million donation from Denny Sanford will help Sanford Health offer free genetics-based testing to as many as 250,000 military veterans nationwide by 2022.

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